TRENTON - Before former State Sen. Wayne Bryant was put on the School of Osteopathic Medicine's payroll, the institution was getting too little state funding and suffering from a lack of political clout.
That's what Robert Prodoehl, chief of staff to the school's former dean, said from the witness stand yesterday as Bryant's federal corruption and fraud trial continued.
In particular, Prodoehl described the school's losing a state-funded cancer institute to Camden's Cooper University Hospital. R. Michael Gallagher, the osteopathic school's dean, blamed the defeat on politics.
"Dr. Gallagher referenced George Norcross as a friend to Cooper," Prodoehl said. "Dr. Gallagher explained to me that George Norcross was the political boss of South Jersey."
Norcross is chairman of Cooper's board of trustees.
Prosecutors have said Gallagher's solution was to hire Bryant, a Camden County Democrat and then chairman of the Senate Budget and Appropriations Committee.
Prosecutors said Bryant accepted the position as a bribe for his influence. They said he did virtually no work in the job, which illegally inflated the value of his public pension.
The School of Osteopathic Medicine is part of the University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey, a state school.
On Tuesday, former UMDNJ president Stuart Cook testified that Bryant solicited him for a job in 2002, while the two men were discussing the possibility of UMDNJ's putting a facility in Camden.
While Cook said he was angered by the request, Prodoehl said Gallagher viewed the potential of hiring Bryant differently.
"He said Sen. Bryant was going to work for someone, and he was concerned that if we didn't hire him, he'd work for Cooper," Prodoehl said. "He also stated that we needed him on our team."
Attempts to reach Norcross late yesterday were unsuccessful.
Prodoehl, who was given immunity for his testimony, said he feared that hiring Bryant would be a "conflict of interest." Gallagher, he said, told him that hiring Bryant had been cleared by UMDNJ's legal counsel.
He said Gallagher then gave him handwritten notes for crafting a job description for Bryant, and other UMDNJ officials contributed their suggestions as well.
In February 2003, they settled on a position called "program support coordinator," and the job description was posted internally and online for one week.
Several people applied, in addition to Bryant, but only one other candidate, Evan Polansky, was given an interview. Prodoehl said Polansky was interviewed only because his wife was an assistant commissioner at a state agency they feared offending.
Prodoehl later wrote a memo to Gallagher, explaining that two candidates had been interviewed and outlining why Bryant should be chosen. Assistant U.S. Attorney Adam Lurie asked Prodoehl why he wrote that memo.
"I was attempting to provide a paper trail for why we hired Sen. Bryant," Prodoehl answered.
Shortly after Bryant began working at the osteopathic school in March 2003, he and Gallagher had a meeting to discuss how Bryant could help the school. A summary of that meeting was put in a memo, which was shown in court yesterday.
Among Bryant's new tasks was arranging meetings with members of the Appropriations Committee and other key lawmakers, making a plan to restore lost state funding, and finding ways to secure federal dollars.
Laurie noted that none of those duties was listed on the program support coordinator job description.